Women in Druidry Online Conference

Hello! It’s my great pleasure and indeed an honour to share with you the details of this upcoming conference, of which I’ll be a panelist. While I’m still recovering from surgery, I won’t be presenting a workshop, but I can still participate in the discussion, and so I’m very much looking forward to it! Here are the details from the website – I hope to see you there!

Women in Druidry

If you were to ask someone to describe an historical Druid, most would overwhelmingly paint a picture of a wise old man with a long grey beard and white flowing robes, but this tells only part of the story.

An elite and learned social caste in ancient Celtic cultures, Druids enjoyed many privileges – such as exemption from taxes and from serving during war – and were accorded a great amount of honor and social power.

They were priests and augurs, teachers and judges, transmitters of history, and holders of sacred memory.

They were educated and deeply respected men, to be sure…

And, they were also women.

As part of an effort to broaden the general understanding and depiction of ancient Druids to include the women who earned this status, as well as to amplify the voices of women who walk a modern-day druidic path, The Coracle and the Sisterhood of Avalon are proud to be hosting the Women in Druidry Conference 2020.

In this first of what we hope will become an annual offering, we have gathered together accomplished women practitioners, leaders, authors, and teachers representing a variety of modern Druidic (and Druid-adjacent) orders and traditions. Together, we will explore Druidic beliefs and traditions, discuss the differences and similarities between these modern pathways, and share some personal experiences and insights about walking a Druidic path as a female practitioner.

This year’s panelists will be:

Danu Forest

Kristal Jenks

Bonnie Lynn Landry

Cerri Lee

Jhenah Telyndru

Joanna van der Hoeven

Our panel discussion will be followed by several workshops, including:

The Faery Faith in Gaelic Folk Magic, presented by Danu Forest

Ritual as a Tool for Magical Archeology, presented by Cerri Lee.

Detailed information about our presenters and their offerings can be found on our website:

Conference and Registration Details

The Women in Druidry Conference will take place on Sunday, 19 July 2020 from 10am to 4:30pm EDT (3:00pm – 9:30 GMT). This online conference will be recorded and audio will be made available to every paid attendee.

Conference admission is open to anyone of any gender or spiritual tradition.

Tickets for the conference are $20.00, with 80 spots available. Should we encounter a greater demand, we will consider expanding the amount of people we can accommodate.

For more information and to register, please visit: https://tinyurl.com/WomenInDruidry2020

Thank you for your interest! We hope you will be able to join us for this exciting event!

On the Road to Recovery…

I’m back home, after a successful surgery and am now on the mend. I just wanted to say how much I appreciated all the staff at the Raedwald Ward at Ipswich Hospital – they truly went above and beyond for each of their patients. The surgeon, the anaesthetist, the nurses and the orderlies – they really helped me get through a difficult life experience. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because I had to do it alone during this pandemic. However, you didn’t feel alone, as everyone did their utmost to keep you calm, assured and more. When all you can see are people’s eyes (because of masks), you really start to notice the emotion that is held within each person’s eyes. The kindness and compassion – it really, really struck me how much each person truly cared about each and every patient. From the kind anaesthetist and the compassionate orderly who gently put his hand on my shoulder, squeezing it gently with encouragement as I was being injected into my spine, to the surgeon who really took the time to talk to me on the phone before and also in the hospital before and after – she was there with me the whole way. The nurses – so helpful, so kind and so caring, and who took the time to talk me through my fears and anxieties when it all became overwhelming, sharing their own experiences and just sitting down with me. It all just blew me away. I never expected anything like this, and my heartfelt thanks goes out to each and every one of them.

As well, a huge thanks to everyone who was holding space for me, in their thoughts and prayers. Even though I walked into the hospital alone, I had all my friends and family with me in spirit. I don’t think I would ever have recovered so quickly had it not been for all the healing energy that was being sent my way. I feel truly, truly blessed to have such people in my life. My heart is full each time I think of everyone who sent their healing my way, and though the recovery will last through the summer, it has been already been amazingly quick. It just goes to show what love and kindness can do in the world, and you all have my deepest gratitude. These words just barely scratch the surface of the emotion that I am feeling right now, and my love goes out to you all. xoxo

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Some Time Off…

Hello everyone! This is just a head’s up to let you all know that I will be taking a few weeks off, as my surgery has now been rescheduled finally! So, I shall be recovering soon, good as new, and ready to keep sharing blogs posts, insights, videos, music and more with you all. In the meantime, I’m in isolation with my garden, my cats and my husband 🙂  Thank you all so much for your support – thank you to all my subscribers, readers, and commentators. You’ve all made this wonderful journey so much richer for being a part of it.

The Inverse of the Summit

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White Peaks, Derbyshire, taken on a walking holiday

Most people who enjoy hiking know that getting to the top of a mountain can be difficult. But for those who are experienced, perhaps after about 40 years of climbing those mountains, we begin to understand that it is the descent that is actually the more challenging of the two. Sure, you become breathless as you make your way slowly up the mountainside, sweat on your brow and your legs muscles pumping.  But on the way down, you have to take special care, your balance comes into play, and one wrong move can leave you stranded on that mountainside awaiting rescue.

And it’s this analogy that I’ve come to understand as the integration of those rare moments of epiphany in our lives. Getting to the mountaintop can be the easy part; coming back home can be the more difficult. We got to the top, now we’re on our return journey, tired, but taking the memory and experience with us to internalise. Having the epiphany is easy – integrating it into every day is the more difficult part of the journey. It’s the inverse of the mountain’s peak, and once we’ve traversed this sometimes treacherous way, it’s then that we can find that lovely and level middle ground.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a small realisation or a grand epiphany that you’ve come to in your life; the really important thing is how to integrate it into your soul and your life. You can’t just have it and then forget about it – or, you could, but then what’s the point? The real point is to make it a part of your life, each and every day. To live the realisation, to make it a reality.

And it’s not easy. Our everyday lives can be so busy, and filled with a plethora of tasks and minutiae that can take precedence unless we are careful about how we manage our integration. It’s all good to go on a retreat, to meditate, to do pathworking or journeying work, even spellwork, but then it’s up to us to bring that into our lives as well, and not just let it rest “out there in the universe”. We have to make it manifest, we have to make time and integrate the work. We have to come down that mountain.

And it can seem dull and boring, all the repetitive tasks that we have to do each day, when we’d rather be receiving even more epiphanies. We have to do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, teach our kids, feed the cats, mow the lawn, pay the bills, etc. We have to get on with the chores of the day.

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My little Kiri cat 🙂

But these elements, numerous as they are, form such a large part of our lives. So why shouldn’t we make them even more special, and give them more significance? Why can’t we internalise our hard work and let that inspiration flow out in everything that we do? It’s all a matter of perspective. On the summit, it’s easy to see all around you, to have that greater perspective. Scooping out the poop in the kitty litter box isn’t nearly as grand.

But that revelatory experience doesn’t have to fade with time. We can carry that in our souls, even when we’re running to the bin with a very stinky scoop of poop. For me, the act of service helps me to continue my revelatory experiences in everything that I do. It’s something that we’ve always taught at Druid College, and something which I’ve expanded even further in my studies and work with the Sisterhood of Avalon. That service, whether it’s working for your community or taking care of your stinky cats can be the thing that connects you to everything else. It is in those moments of interconnection that we realise that we are all a part of a greater tapestry of life, woven from many threads, stronger and even more beautiful when we support each other.

That larger perspective is carried in our hearts and minds, and into everything that we do, from the choices we make each and every day to the way we interact with people every single moment. And it’s not easy. Coming down the mountain there are loose rocks and stones that can trip us up or roll under our feet, causing us to lose our balance, wrench our knee, put our back out. But if we’re careful, if we’re mindful, we can hopefully get back to everyday life intact and in good condition to keep that momentum going. There are the pitfalls of losing our way, losing the daylight, losing the map or compass. But unless we’re really unlucky, most of us will make it back and into our nice, warm homes where we can integrate fully the experience. And it’s keeping that feeling in our hearts as we go about our daily tasks can be equally as challenging. That is the real inverse of the summit.

But once we have achieved that, then we find the level path that allows us a good vantage point, and is much easier to manage as well. We find that balance point in our heart and souls, and the way forward becomes more pleasant. So the next time you reach that mountaintop in your life, find a word that summarises the experience, something that you can recall when you are cleaning a clogged drain, dealing with a difficult neighbour, or sitting in a lonely silence. This is what you can use to make the vision real, to make the intangible, tangible. Manifest this in your life, and then all that work will truly be worth it.

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The valley where I grew up in Quebec, taken from the lovely and level trail of an old disused railway.

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New YouTube series: Tales of Suffolk!

I’ve just started up a new YouTube video series, called Tales of Suffolk. Here I explore the regions strange and fey tales, beginning with the Wild Man (Merman) of Orford Castle, just along the coast from where I live.

The Awen (Part Two)

This is a continuation from my previous post on the awen, which you can read HERE.

So where does the flowing inspiration of modern Druidry come from then? And what is the difference between awen and the energy that is in all life?

In Welsh, we can trace it back to the 19th century, where aw means flowing or fluidity, and wen is spirit, or a being. We can more easily trace the concept and word back to medieval texts retelling the tale of Ceridwen and Taliesin.

The goddess Ceridwen was brewing a special potion for her son, Afagddu, tended by Gwion Bach. Some of the brew bubbled over and three drops scalded Gwion as he stirred the pot, and he put his thumb into his mouth to ease the soreness, taking in the magic of the brew meant for Afagddu. Ceridwen was enraged, and chased him, eventually eating him and then giving birth to him again. After she gives birth to him, she sets him on a boat and he was discovered alive and well later, and renamed Taliesin for his radiant brow. He becomes the most famous Bard of Britain.

The awen can be seen as being achieved through a deep connection to every aspect of the land, in whatever shape or form.  We can undergo a kind of initiation into the awen much as Gwion Bach did, through the goddess Ceridwen and her special brew. We can drink from the cauldron of inspiration, but with that comes great trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with awareness and enlightenment.

The awen is also related to water and rivers, and not just the liquid brewed in Ceridwen’s cauldron. In the medieval poem “Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, it states:

“The Awen I sing,

From the deep I bring it,

A river while it flows,

I know its extent;

I know when it disappears;

I know when it fills;

I know when it overflows;

I know when it shrinks;

I know what base

There is beneath the sea. [1]

The awen relates to water on so many levels. The flowing spirit of water and the flowing spirit of awen share many similarities. Both are fluid, able to be contained and yet have their own freedom in their inherent sense of being. They follow their own currents, and can be beneficial when used with respect. When we follow the currents of life, the inter-connectedness of all things, we share that flow of awen and then come to know the fathomless depths that it can bring.

We also have the shamanic diviners in the Welsh tradition known as Awenyddion.  There is also awen involved in divination and the quest for relationship with the divine.  The awen is a vast subject that requires much study, but more to the point is requires experience. We can research the similarities between awen and the Hindu aspects of shakti, for example, or the Dao in Chinese philosophy. But we must feel the awen with every atom of our being in order the truly understand it.

But what is the difference between awen and the energy of life, or the life force? I would say that awen is the thread that connects us to that life force. When we connect in good relationship to the world around us, those threads shimmer with awen, with inspiration. We know that we are a part of the web, wholly and utterly connected. When we feel that connection with other beings, soul to soul, and our sense of self lessens, we are inspired by that connection. We then think of ourselves less, and our perception opens out to a wider perspective on the world, one that is more inclusive rather than just our own self-centred point of view. We become a thread in the web.

Awen helps us to see beyond ourselves, and perhaps paradoxically to allow us to see ourselves in everything. The poet Amergin described this beautifully what is now known as the “Song of Amergin”.  When we see that we are a part of a whole, then we are inspired. When we lessen the sense of self, we are able to perceive so much more. When we have expanded our worlds to include everything within it, we become the awen.

I am the wind on the sea;

I am the wave of the sea;

I am the bull of seven battles;

I am the eagle on the rock

I am a flash from the sun;

I am the most beautiful of plants;

I am a strong wild boar;

I am a salmon in the water;

I am a lake in the plain;

I am the word of knowledge;

I am the head of the spear in battle;

I am the god that puts fire in the head;

Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?

Who can tell the ages of the moon?

Who can tell the place where the sun rests?”[2]

Many Druid rituals begin or end with singing or chanting the awen. When doing so, the word is stretched to three syllables, sounding like ah-oo-wen.  It is a lovely sound, which opens up the heart and soul. Sung/chanted together, or in rounds, it simply flows, as its namesake determines.  Our hearts can open if we let them when chanting or singing the awen.

Yet I am sure that the awen is different for each and every Druid.  The connection, and the resulting expression of that connection, the Druid’s own creativity, can be so vast and diverse.  It is what is so delicious about it; we inhale the awen and exhale our own creativity in song, in dance, in books, in protest marches. The possibilities are endless, as is the awen itself.

We are never born, and we can never die: we are simply manifest for a while in one form, and then we manifest again in another when the conditions are right. For me, this represents reincarnation, the nitty gritty basics of it and the science behind reincarnation. The threads that bind this together are the awen.

[1] Mary Jones, “The Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, The Celtic Literature Collective, accessed January 12, 2018. http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t07.html

[2] Lady Gregory, The Essential Lady Gregory Collection, Google Books, accessed January 13, 2018.  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fx0tOGYDZXQC&dq

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)

The Awen (Part One)

The Awen

awenThe awen symbol is based on an original design by the 18th-19th century Druid revivalist, Iolo Morganwg. It consists of three lines falling to the right, centre and left. Modern Druidry incorporates the original source point of three dots, which can either be seen as points of light or drops from the cauldron of the goddess Ceridwen. The awen symbol represents, among other things, the triple nature of the Druid path, incorporating the paths of Bard, Ovate and Druid. It is not an ancient symbol, but a modern Druid symbol, used widely by Druids the world over, regardless of their opinion on Iolo and his work.

The first recorded reference to Awen occurs in Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, a Latin text of circa 796 CE.  “Talhearn Tad Awen won renown in poetry” is where we first see the word, and it tells us that Talhearn is the ‘father of Awen” in this instance. Sadly, this source tells us nothing more about Talhearn as being the “father of awen”, but perhaps later research may discover more clues about this reference.

A common translation of the Welsh word awen is “flowing inspiration” or “flowing poetry/poetic insight”. Awake to our own energy, and stretching out towards the energy of nature around us, we begin to see just what is the awen.  It is an opening of one’s self, of one’s spirit or soul, in order to truly and very deeply see and connect to all life around us.  When we are open, we can receive that divine gift, the inspiration that flows, whether it is from deity, nature, or whatever it is that you choose to focus on.

For awen to exist, there must be relationship.  We cannot be inspired unless we are open, and we cannot be open unless we have established a relationship, whether that is with the thunder, the blackbird or a god.  It is cyclical in nature; we open and give of ourselves and in doing so we receive, and vice versa.  Letting go, releasing into that flow of awen allows it to flow ever more freely, and we find ourselves inspired not only in fits and bursts of enlightenment or inspiration, but all the time, carrying that essence of connection and wonder with us at all times.  There is, of course, a line to be drawn, for we can’t be off our heads in ecstatic relationship with everything all the time. As with all language, a literal translation can be far too limiting.  It’s good to have a context and some sort of description to relate the concept, but when confined to literalism we get stuck and are unable to see the bigger picture. Awen does mean flowing inspiration, but what is inspiration?

A really good idea, a bolt from the blue is one interpretation. However, there are many others.  Inspiration is not just something that happens to us. It is something that we can cultivate, in true relationship. We are not subject to the whims of inspiration, but rather can access that inspiration on a daily basis through deep relationship. Indeed, awen is all about relationship, more than it being “a really good idea”. When we literally translate awen into inspiration, we can lose that context of relationship. With good relationship, we will have good ideas.

When soul touches soul, there is an energy; a source of inspiration.  When we are aware of our soul interacting with other souls, we can harness that inspiration and see it in everything that we do. It doesn’t just happen every now and then, like a bolt out of the blue, but rather is in everything that we do. It requires a willingness for deep relationship, and a desire to be mindful in all our relationships.

This may sound a lot like Eastern philosophy; being very mindful. Mindfulness has become a large part of many Eastern philosophies, but I am sure that it has been around as long as human self-awareness has been around. Indeed, it may have been a large part of ancient Druidry, now lost to the mists of time. Taking inspiration from Eastern traditions with regards to our way of thinking is not much different to reading the works of Nietzsche or Plato. There is no monopoly on wisdom.

Mindfulness relates to awen in that when we are aware of our relationship to the world, when we see how we fit in the world then we can work in harmony with the world. We become an integral and integrated part of an ecosystem, where we know that everything that we do matters to the system in its entirety. The discipline gained from such mindfulness as practiced in the Eastern traditions and philosophies can be a great teacher in expanding our minds and helping us to learn more about ourselves. That also goes for other religions and philosophies as well. I’m sure the ancient Druids, just as much as Modern Druids today, loved reading about world religions and discussing philosophy.

There is a lot of talk about cultural misappropriation, however, in modern Paganism and it’s something that needs to be carefully considered. We do have to be aware of when we are taking something from another culture without its proper context and permission. Nevertheless, with religions or traditions such as Buddhism, for example, the Buddha said that enlightenment was for anyone to achieve, available to all, regardless of where they came from, whatever their background.  It’s why we see so many different forms of Buddha being represented in sculpture. We have fat Buddhas from China, giant slim standing Buddhas in India, reclining Buddhas in Burma, sitting Buddhas carved straight out of the rock temples in Sri Lanka, elegant bronze-plated Buddhas in Japan and so on. In each country the Buddha looks different, as Buddha is within each and every person as well as having been a person in his own right. There is even a female Buddha known as Tara in Vajrayana Buddhism.

You will find that Druidry has much in common with many other Earth-based religions the world over, as well as many philosophies, both ancient and modern. We can be inspired by these and let them help us to change our perception, our way of seeing the world, from a self-centred point of view to a more holistic worldview, from a less human-centred perspective to one that is more integrated. In that, we are living the awen.

Awen is that spark set off by interaction, by integration.  We do not exist in a bubble. We are surrounded by the world at all times, by the seen and the unseen.  When we live integrated, we see the meaning that each relationship has, and that inspires us to live our lives accordingly. That inspiration is the heart and soul of Druidry.

Inspiration: to inspire, from the Latin inspirare, the act of breathing.

Indeed, it has many connotations to the breath and breathing. Awen can connect us to the world through the very act of breathing. All living things breathe in some form on this planet. The human species shares this breath, breathing in the oxygen created on this planet and exhaling it into the twilight. The air that we breathe has been recycled by plants and creatures for billions of years. The breath is the gateway to the ancestors, and to a deep understanding of the nature of awen.  Awen is also shared inspiration, for we share this planet with everything else on it. Everything that we do has an impact, every breath we take, every action that we make. Breath links us to everything else.

When we remember that deep connection to everything else, we cannot help but be inspired. And we hope to inspire in return, much as our own exhalation is valuable to trees and plants who take in the carbon dioxide, turning it to oxygen for our own breath. Inspiration and expiration, inhalation and exhalation are all words for the act of breathing. Remembering the shared breath of the world, we come home to ourselves and rediscover the wonder and awe of existence. Then, we are truly inspired.

More about the awen in Part Two, coming up…

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)

Welcome Beltane!

We’re so lucky to live where we do: walk out the door, turn left and we’re out in the beautiful countryside. Here are some photos from our walk today, with summer rolling in. If you would like any of these as prints, simply email me at vanderhoevenjoanna@gmail.com for prices.